Show highlights Korean culture

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Show highlights Korean culture


When Lee Mi-young started a quarterly magazine 10 years ago, she had one clear objective ― to showcase Korean culture in a sensual, fashionable and contemporary way. “I was always so frustrated to look at depictions of Korean culture through magazines and other press releases and see it being portrayed in a dark, somber manner. Ten years ago, traditionalists were much more strict in defining the borders of Korean culture,” said the CEO of Oriental Image, a magazine that introduces traditional Korean culture and its relations with other parts of the world in both English and Korean. Back in 1997, when the magazine first started, Ms. Lee said, people told her the bilingual magazine wouldn’t survive. “They were skeptical of the fact that I would be able to package Korean culture in such a way that it would be relevant to contemporary Korea and the world,” she said.
Ten years later, however, Ms. Lee’s magazine is going strong and has organized an exhibition titled “Image of Korea ― Its Shapes and Colors,” to showcase the best of 10 years of photography and collectors’ items. The exhibition opened yesterday at the Korea Foundation’s Cultural Center, in Jung-gu, central Seoul, and will run until Oct. 30. Around 570 photographs and a number of antiques, including furniture, shoes, pottery and glasses, as well as traditional dolls from around 50 countries, donated by the wives of ambassadors in Korea, will be featured.
The photographs will be the highlight of the event, and will be categorized in five groups: the Joseon dynasty’s upper class, the Buddhist mentality, items of ordinary Koreans, the seductive world of Joseon dynasty women’s quarters and Korean traditional dolls. The largest segment is on the Buddhist mentality. “Because of my personal interest in Buddhist temples and the culture itself, we started conducting many interviews and taking photographs concerning this subject,” Ms. Lee said. She added that two-thirds of traditional Korean culture is based on Buddhism and even if one is not religious or a Buddhist, “one can learn so much about Korea just be paying a bit of attention to this culture.”
There will also be Korean traditional puppet shows and musical events throughout the exhibition period.
The exhibition was organized by Oriental Image and the Future Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by chairman Jeffrey Jones, an American attorney at Kim & Chang and the former president of the American chamber of commerce. The organizers are also in the midst of making plans to take the show to other countries, including the United States and the Middle East. “We wanted to start in Korea first, because in order to market and represent Korean culture to the rest of the world in an appropriate way for our contemporaries, we need to have support from the Korean public,” Ms. Lee said.
During a press conference on Sept. 13, Mr. Jones, who has lived in Korea for more than 30 years, also expressed the need to create a strong foundation of appreciation for Korean culture amongst Koreans first, especially the younger generation. He said that besides the part this exhibition would play in introducing Korean culture to foreigners, he primarily got involved because he wanted to show Korean youth how exciting the traditions of their culture are.
Although the exhibition has received a lot of sponsorships from organizations such as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, SBS, the Joong-Ang Ilbo and The Beautiful Foundation, Ms. Lee said that most artisans, collectors and designers who work with Korean traditional culture are neither recognized nor funded by the government. “In Korea, if you are not appointed a human cultural asset by the government, there is almost no funding to rely on, which makes it difficult for independent artists and artisans to keep doing their work,” she said. She added that because of this problem, she has focused mostly on independent artisans, obscure Buddhist temples and monks during her 10 years at the magazine.
Besides funding, another problem for artisans is promotion. “The main difference between Japan and Korea regarding individual traditional culture is that the Japanese have a keen skill in repackaging their traditional culture in such a way that it fits both the times and global marketability in other countries,” said Chon Song-hee, the communications director and an editor at Oriental Image.
Both said there is not much material in both Korean and English available to the public to explain in detail the intricate differences and idiosyncrasies of traditional Korean culture. “For example, there are many words to describe a traditional thimble. How do we decide which to use in which circumstance?” said Ms. Lee. By increasing the scale of the exhibition in the future and taking it to other countries, Ms. Lee said the organizers hope to show that “Korean culture is more than just the Korean Folk Village in Yongin city. It has elegance and modernity that is there for your discovery.”
“Image of Korea - Its Shapes and Colors” is planned as an annual event. and plans for next year’s exhibition are already underway.

by Cho Jae-eun

“Image of Korea - Its Shapes and Colors” will be held at the Korea Foundation’s Cultural Center from Oct. 9 to Oct. 30. Hours for the show are weekdays and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The nearest subway station is City Hall, lines No. 1 and 2, exit 9.
For more information, call (02) 3675-7944 or visit
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